Anse Mitan – Martinique
Otherwise known as the Island of Flowers for its abundance of blooms and verdant greenery spread across its rugged and unspoiled terrain, Martinique is impressively and magnificently beautiful.
Still today an overseas department of France, the unmistakable European influences are found everywhere from its array of marvelous bakeries to the language you will hear spoken on the streets. However, this is also an island which very obviously displays its Caribbean heritage and such a blending of cultures gives Martinique a charm both distinct and unique.
Aside from the many magical elements of such a colorful culture it is hard not to be seduced by a country which offers tropically idyllic beaches, mountains luxuriantly cloaked in rainforest and a seemingly endless variety of things to explore.
Water-lovers can head out to magnificent coral garden snorkel sites, paddle a kayak around tranquil coves or head out on a boat cruise to watch whales and dolphins frolicking in their natural environment. Those who want to learn a little about the island’s history have a wealth of sites to choose from too ranging from the childhood home of Empress Josephine of France to exploring castle ruins, grand old plantations or a reconstructed slave village.
Anse Mitan is a lovely little settlement in the island’s south, backed by a beautiful dazzling white-sand beach which is known for the wide array of water sports it offers. Nearby is the town of Tres Ilets and any number of other places to visit within easy access from here while the capital of Fort-de-France is just a short ferry ride across the sun-drenched bay.
Some arrive in this rugged paradise to feast their way around the island taking advantage of the delectable French/Creole cuisine. Others have nothing more in mind than lazing around in its crystal-clear waters between topping up the tan on a palm-fringed beach and sipping rum punches while others still want to fill every hour here being active and immersed. No matter which of these most appeal to you it is impossible to run out of options on Martinique which offers 430 square miles to explore and a wealth of experiences of the totally new kind.
A Morning in Martinique
There is perhaps no more fitting way to begin your explorations on this Island of Flowers than by wandering the pathways of its exceptional botanic gardens infused with the scent of tropical blooms and which also has an exciting aerial walkway.
After a pause for coffee you can resume your island adventure and head off to the plantation which was the childhood home of the girl who was to later become the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress of France.
The Balata Botanical Gardens
Nestled deep within tropical forest and surrounded by hills and mountains luxuriantly cloaked in exotic greenery can be found the Jardin de Balata. This amazing island highlight which spreads across two hectares is the brainchild of Jean-Philippe Thoze – a landscape architect whose personal horticultural passion is obvious to see for any who venture into this little paradise. Monsieur Thoze has personally tended these magical gardens for half a century now and since the 1980s has been sharing them with all who want to explore his artistic vision.
Just six miles north of the capital, Fort-de-France, the tranquil Balata Gardens trails will lead you past and among an incredible array of plants which include the scent-rich tropical blooms of begonias and hibiscus while extra color splashes are added by flowers such as porcelain roses, orchids, bromeliads and the scarlet alien-like spikes of red palulu. As jewel-like hummingbirds in shades of sapphire and emerald hover from plant to plant, you will also discover giant bamboo stands, palm trees in hundreds of varieties and serene ponds sprouting delicate water lilies.
Scattered along the way are benches and leaf-shaded huts where you can pause to admire the stunning scenery and watch the island’s birds going about their daily life.
One of the gardens’ most exciting features is its treetop trail where rope bridges and wooden walkways are strung between towering mahogany trees. These 15m high vantage points give you not only aerial views of the beautiful gardens themselves but also give you an opportunity to appreciate the rainforest surroundings and the Carbet Mountains off to the north.
It is also possible to visit the traditional Creole house around which the gardens are set – once the home of the gardens’ creator’s grandparents – which takes you back in time to a bygone island era.
Morning Coffee in Martinique
Once you have finished walking the magical trails and aerial walkways of the Balata Gardens you are conveniently placed to head to the capital of Fort-de-France for a wide choice of cafes serving morning coffee. Additionally, all those who enjoy fresh-baked goods with their coffee are going to find themselves a little spoiled as Martinique’s French culture means bakeries of the exceptional kind are all part of the island scene. One such of these is La P’tite Madeleine which anyone versed in all things French will know is the name for a kind of traditional bakery treat which this establishment offers in some mouthwatering sweet and savory varieties. Choosing to call itself a tearoom, this lovely little contemporary spot also offers a good menu of smoothies and coffees besides its tea varieties with all kinds of extra toppings and flavorings available for a little extra indulgence in your morning break.
Just across the waters of the Bay of Fort-de-France and south from the capital lie a series of coves, docking jetties and settlements including Trois Ilets – the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine – and the bay of Anse Mitan. Regular ferries links these two land areas just four kilometers apart, making it easy to hop from one side to the other without having to go by the longer road route.
These areas also cluster together several cafe choices one of which is Le Ti Taurus whose right-on-the-beach location makes it an ideal choice for those who want to drink in Caribbean views along with their coffee. This beach-shack cafe, restaurant and bar is all about enjoying the simple things in life which here means sitting at a roof-shaded table on its little wooden deck or sand floor area in front to watch the world go by as you take a morning pause. It also happens to be just steps from where the Fort-de-France ferry docks and just three kilometers from the next stop on your morning itinerary – the Pagerie Museum.
The Pagerie Museum
Before becoming Empress Josephine in 1796 after her marriage to self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Marie Rose Tascher de la Pagerie lived on Martinique, daughter of rich French Creole plantation owners. The sugar estate and its enchanting grounds have now become a museum with the former kitchen the principal building as Josephine’s actual home and place of birth was destroyed in a hurricane during her lifetime; something which severely affected her family’s fortunes and played a significant role in the need to secure her marriage.
Today this quaint stone and wooden shutter cottage houses a collection of items owned by the Empress Josephine. The most highly valued of these is her marriage certificate and a series of hand-written love letters from Napoleon which are full of highly personal outpourings. In the past similar love letters have been sold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars which will give you some idea of the value of the treasures you can see here for yourself although, unless you speak French, you will be unable to read them.
The building is not large but nevertheless manages to cram a considerable amount in including a bed which Josephine slept in as a child along with Napoleonic-era art, furniture, porcelain, sculpture, household items and general artifacts relating to the couple’s life together. Tours of this museum will give you a greater insight into Josephine’s life as the guides have an impressive collection of anecdotes and stories relating to both her childhood and her marriage. Josephine’s time as the wife of one of the world’s most historically powerful figures was in fact to be relatively short lived as Napoleon divorced his bride after 14 years of marriage, following which the former empress lived out the rest of her life in Paris.
La Savane des Enclaves
If you should find yourself with extra time before lunch after exploring the fascinating but compact Pagerie Museum you might like to tag La Savane de Enclaves onto the end of your morning. Located close to the Pagerie, a visit here will actually complete your picture of the plantation life which Empress Josephine’s former home is in reality just one half of. The rich estates of the Caribbean were owned by Europeans in the main while the physical work in both the grand plantation houses and to gather the crops was done by slaves who were forcibly brought to these shores from Africa.
The vision of just one man to pay tribute to all those who endured the brutality of slavery, La Savane de Enclaves is a reconstructed slave village which with its huts, sculptures, exhibits and gardens lets you glimpse something of what life was like for these former plantation workers. Discover the day-to-day working grind of a slave, the punishments endured and how they sustained themselves by growing plants for both eating and medicinal uses.
Lunch on Martinique
France is a nation with a reputation for offering some of the finest cuisine in the world and as Martinique’s culture is strongly French-influenced you can be sure of some wonderful offerings when it comes time to eat. Thrown into the mix are also elements of African, Caribbean and Asian so the Martinique cuisine can be a true journey of discovery for the culinarily curious.
Your nearest center for lunch choices after exploring the life of an empress at the Pagerie is Anse Mitan just three kilometers north. Alternatively, you can hop on the ferry again to take you back to Fort-de-France where you will have more options than you could work through in months. Also, if you don’t mind making a little effort with a short car ride, Martinique has some dazzling gems tucked away from the main centers. These range from spectacularly cliff-top perched restaurants to secret garden hideaways while the coastal area around the Pagerie Museum is dotted with the kind of restaurant choices from which dreams are made.
One of these is Ti’Sable, right on the gorgeous Anse d’Arlets beach, which although technically of the beach shack variety is like comparing the Eiffel Tower to an electricity pole. Here a range of individual tables are set right on the sand beneath wooden pergolas with billowing white drapes. Towering coconut palms edge the property with nothing but sparkling blue waters beyond and color schemes of naturally toned wood with turquoise color splashes perfectly mirror the natural beach surroundings. This is tropical perfection at its finest and while the beach setting and decor give a relaxed atmosphere there is no ignoring this restaurant’s distinct elegance and class.
The French/Creole food matches the establishment’s other high quality elements in every way and although Ti’Sable is best known for its incredible seafood it also has a ‘from the earth’ menu section which includes duck and beef with a fixed price option offering the best value. If you happen to stop by on a Sunday the restaurant serves a buffet lunch which tends to earn rave reviews from all who’ve tried it.
For those who don’t want to stray too far from the Anse Mitan and Tres Ilets areas the latter has a beautiful complex of arts and crafts shops and restaurants known as La Poterie. Set around what was once an 18th century pottery yard for roofing tiles, the boutiques, studios and eateries here tend to come loaded with charm and atmosphere. Arguably the pick of the craft village’s restaurants is the lovely La Mandoline which sits half hidden behind a lush screen of palms and other tropical plants. The interior which lies behind this greenery-clad frontage is no less magical with a roofed, open-sided deck area or alfresco garden tables surrounded by more plants.
The gourmet-style cuisine here is traditional French and although the small menu changes on a monthly basis it manages to offer something for everyone, all of it presented beautifully. Seafood features heavily and be sure to leave some room to try one of the excellent La Mandoline desserts which could be anything from cream brulee to coconut ice nougat.
You can take a stroll around the village afterwards to work off any over indulgences and to hunt down some unique gifts and souvenirs including some incredible sand art.
An Afternoon on Martinique
With a coastline fringed by idyllic tropical beaches and waters which come in every shade of blue, it is perhaps not surprising that water activities feature heavily in the Martinique menu of things to see and do.
Cruises and tours come in just about every guise you could imagine ranging from kayak jaunts which bring you to secret coves to sailing experiences for both novices and the experienced.
Thanks to an abundance of marine life combined with warm waters of exceptional clarity snorkeling is one of Martinique’s most popular pastimes and taking a snorkel tour allows you to get to spots you wouldn’t otherwise be able to access.
Besides the multitude of rainbow-colored tropical fish and turtles which inhabit the Martinique coral reefs and waters this area is also a world hot-spot for whales and dolphins. As a result there are several tour operators who offer boat trips from Martinique to see these magnificent creatures wild and free in their ocean environment.
For those who really can’t make up their mind between focusing their afternoon hours on snorkeling or dolphin watching you will be pleased to learn that many of the trips offered cover a bit of both.
Surrounded by coral reef and with water visibility which can stretch as far as 100ft, Martinique has some wonderful snorkeling opportunities. Several of the sites are accessible directly from the shore and hiring snorkel equipment if you don’t have your own is easy to do. However, many choose to sign up to snorkel tours so they can enjoy some coastal scenery by boat as well as benefiting from the knowledge of expert guides who can lead them to the best locations.
One spot often visited by boat tour is Anse Dufour where the coral is magnificent and the chance of encountering turtles is high. The sheltered white-sand bay here has especially tranquil waters which makes it ideal for the less experienced snorkeler as well as ensuring an incredible water clarity. Tours which visit Anse Dufour also typically take in the enchanting Bat Cave snorkel site whose multi-colored waters are especially beautiful and home to an exceptional number of vibrantly-hued fish which tend to make this a truly magical experience.
Dolphin and Whale Watching
Martinique is entirely surrounded by the protected marine sanctuary of Agoa which extends as far north as the island of Anguilla and is so named for the Amerindian spirit of the water. Living year round within this sanctuary or passing through on migratory routes are more than 20 species of whale and dolphin. So high in numbers are these cetaceans that sightings are almost guaranteed to all those who head out on a boat trip to seek them out and watching these magical creatures fishing, swimming with their young, riding the boat’s bow wave or at play is a highly memorable experience.
Bottlenose and Fraser’s dolphin are two of the most common sightings but those found in the greatest number are spotted dolphins. Typically swimming in large pods, spotted dolphins are the acrobats of the marine world and watching their frequent leaping, spinning and somersaulting out of the water is a spectacular sight.
In season whales are also frequent visitors in these waters with the giant and majestic sperm and humpback whales just two of the species you might see.
Pre-Dinner Drinks and Dinner In and Around Anse Mitan
With incredible rum punches found literally everywhere and a long established culinary tradition which takes the sublimity of French cuisine and combines it with flavorful tropical elements, Martinique has some true treats in store for all when it comes to drinking and dining.
With many of the island’s visitor hot-spots such as Fort-de-France, Tres Ilets and Anse d’Arlet
strung along the west coast it isn’t hard to find a bar which gives you a front row seat for taking in some spectacular Caribbean sunsets.
For perhaps the best view of all, located not far from the marina in Fort-de-France, simply ride an elevator from ground level to arrive at The Cloud, no longer the island’s only rooftop bar but its original. Placed to receive the full advantage from the early evening breezes and with views that take in the capital below you and its surrounding hills, this lofty bar also gives you prime sunset viewing. Bask in the glow of the sinking sun’s violet, gold and rose hues as you peruse the cocktail menu or order up a glass of wine as the sounds of soft jazz drift around you. If you need a little something to keep you going until the main event of dinner the Cloud has some great appetizer boards too.
For views of a different kind and for a setting as idyllic as it gets make your way to the Hotel Bakoua which sits at the north end of Anse Mitan Bay. Behind this former colonial dwelling building and its tropical gardens you will arrive at its gorgeous beach and Le Coco – its floating bar. To arrive at the little circular thatched hut which sits perched on stilts over the water just make your way down the boardwalk and then sit back with a sundowner of choice to watch the yachts sailing the bay with the mountains beyond serving as a backdrop. Once again, the west-facing location means your already beautiful views will also put you in prime position for watching the glorious sunset as the turquoise waters laps beneath and around you.
No matter whether you choose a roadside vendor with a sprinkling of tables or one of the high-end restaurants, Martinique’s mix of quality French and Caribbean cuisine means dining tends to be something of a highlight during any visit here. Besides the ubiquitous French and Creole options you might also come across Portuguese, Italian and Asian too for a true diversity of choice. In reality, with exceptional culinary offerings almost anywhere you go, the most difficult element of Martinique dining is actually deciding which of the multitude of wonderful island restaurants to settle on.
If you are forever on the lookout for hidden gems and also enjoy such things as great seafood, a beautiful rustic patio and the chance to dine amid the sounds of jazz music the ideal choice could be Le Vieux Foyal. Located in the capital of Fort-de-France but down a quiet side street, this restaurant is easy to miss making it something of a locals’ secret. Le Vieux Foyal’s retro interior set inside an historic Creole house is pretty but it is really the alfresco courtyard with its jungle of plants spilling from every side which gives this unassuming restaurant its real charm. Before eight in the evening you can often be the only diner in this tranquil garden-like oasis making it perfect for those looking for a romantic and hideaway dining spot. The soft sounds of jazz are usually drifting out from the interior but if you time it right this restaurant also hosts live jazz bands on a regular basis too.
The uncomplicated but excellent food matches the ambiance in every way blending French cuisine with traditional Creole dishes along with touches of other culinary influences from around the world. Seafood is the focus here with locally-caught lobster a specialty but there are also other meat choices too with an emphasis overall on taste and freshness.
With such a clustering of restaurant choices of every kind around Anse Mitan and the capital just across the bay you won’t need to stray too far from this area to dine if you don’t want to. However, if you’d like to explore a little more of the island there are all kinds of other destinations scattered around which offer some wonderful alternative restaurant choices and are just a short taxi ride away.
The Saint-Luce area on the south coast is one such option with a collection of eateries strung along the beaches. Case Coco is one seafront promenade restaurant here which oozes atmosphere with its beautifully soft-lit interior of natural-toned and white-painted wood inside a restored Creole house. Welcoming and intimate, Case Coco’s tasteful dining room opens out on its seaward side for both ocean views and the advantage of the evening breeze.
This elegant choice restaurant offers exactly the kind of creative French cuisine combined with tropical island elements and influences which makes the Martinique dining scene such a winner. Its highly-respected European-trained chef is especially known for his outstanding presentation so whatever your menu choice everything tends to arrive at your table as a gastronomic work of art.
Seafood fans are going to feel rather spoiled here with the menu having a lobster section all to itself along with other fruits of the ocean offerings such as the sesame tuna tataki in a coconut cream. Also included are duck, pork and beef options with the flambeed rum duck breast one of the restaurant’s signature dishes. A range of incredible home-made desserts such as the pina colada and old rum coconut crumble round things off while there is a good selection of wines offered by the glass to compliment your meal.
An Evening In and Around Anse Mitan
Evenings on the Island of Flowers tend to be magical without making any kind of special effort or having to search too hard. All you have to do is choose a spot to enjoy some after-dinner drinks and then sit back to enjoy the symphony of insects, frogs and ocean sounds which waft through the night air. If you prefer your music a little more man-made there are plenty of bars and restaurants which host live performances ranging from jazz to rock and several of the resorts also lay on entertainment, throwing open their doors to non-guests on certain nights of the week.
With a rapidly growing arts scene Martinique also has some choices for those who want to inject a little culture into their evening. New venues are appearing all the time to play their own particular role in this recently emerging aspect of island life although Martinique has for some time now had a well-established theater in its capital town of Fort-de-France. Named for the island poet and politician Aimé Césaire whose work significantly helped to raise awareness for racial issues concerning black Caribbeans, the Aimé Césaire Theater’s Neo-classical styled building is exceptionally beautiful and worth having a look at even if you don’t intend to take in a performance. Built in the late 1800s, this grand building with its campanile and clock was once the city hall and today serves as a venue for staging an eclectic program of events. Although the plays by international playwrights such as Shakespeare and Victor Hugo are usually in French the theater also hosts concerts, exhibitions and sometimes has some wonderful art installations in its beautiful gardens.
A further offering for visual arts fans are the dance performances by Les Grands Ballets de la Martinique – a professional and long-established troupe which makes regular tours of the island taking in a variety of resorts, hotels, bars and other island hot-spots. Shows given by these traditional dancers, musicians and singers tend to be dazzling, full of color and highly entertaining and as the season of performances includes literally hundreds of presentations you may very well find one coincides with your visit to the island.
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